The Best American Poetry Series

by Ruza Bagaric
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by David Lehman, Series Editor


As series editor of The Best American Poetry, I get to have a say, sometimes a large say, in the cover art we use each year. Early in the history of the series we established some guidelines for ourselves. These can be stated in a single sentence: the work of art that we reproduce on the cover — whether a painting, drawing, collage, photograph, or print — has to be by an American and has to be modern (defined as anything after 1900). As I love looking at art, the need to produce a new cover each year has given me an extra reason to frequent galleries and museums. It is fun to be constantly on the watch for cover art. It can change the way you look at a picture or add a new dimension to the experience.

Choosing cover art is not a unilateral process: my editor at Scribner, others at Scribner such as the art director and the publisher, and my literary agent (Glen Hartley), are among those whose opinions matter.

The cover art for The Best American Poetry 2008 is Ruza Bagaric's "Untitled" painting of a nude young woman looking out the window. It seems to me that the agent of beauty can also be the object of aesthetic contemplation. The subject of this painting identifies the book's reader in an ideally contemplative state: quiet, alone, stripped of adornment (except for the simple functional barrette in her hair). She is an elegant model of a model, her gaze directed outward. At the same time, the nude can serve as a figure for beauty and for poetry itself. I know next to nothing about the artist. The painting dates from 1996.

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